Sunday, January 29, 2006

almost, maine

I went to see charming, quirky "almost, maine" at the Daryl Roth Theatre in Union Squre, NYC. John Cariani penned this script -- the John Cariani I knew when he was an Apollo Company intern at StageWest in Springfield, MA a dozen or so years ago. John's moved on: he's been nominated for a Tony for his performance on Broadway in "Fiddler on the Roof." He's a regular on "Law and Order," appeared in "Kissing Jessica Stein," has authored more plays.
I recall John as an immensely likable, tall, wiry, musical guy who was The Aviator in "Little Prince," appeared in "A Christmas Carol," was available, receptive to criticism, happy to be "making theater" in whatever capacity.
Actor Todd Cerveris implored the full house at yesterday's late afternoon matinee, to spread the word about this sweet romantic comedy. People need to attend and soon -- otherwise, this gem of a play might very well close. That would be a multi-dimensional shame: the slightly off-tempo piece surely will please teenagers and the post-adolescent crowd. It does wonders, believe me, for baby-boomers. Elder statespeople will be unable to resist it. The characters are lovable, odd, winsome....and they play, delectably, directly to the audience.
Gabriel Barre, the excellent leader whose musical direction has distinguished shows I have seen at Goodspeed Opera House, allows these performers to flourish. Julian Fleisher's music is warm, beckoning, recurring.
almost, maine -- almost exists! Well, maybe it does; perhaps it really doesn't matter. The sky is purple and black, the stars are visible, the fake snow simulates well enough, and the couples are: out of, check that -- in love, dissonant -- check that -- harmonious: opposites but not really since they attract (one another)....
Cariani's script, inclusive of a prologue and epilogue, bestows eleven scenes/circumstances/occasions. Every so often people hug, kiss but, more often, they're apart -- standing -- or on a bench. Someone is afraid to be intimate....
Thematically, it's a matter (snowball as metaphor) of navigating the perimeter. Each journey might very well result in union. Otherwise, imginary gulfs prevent potential lovers from actualization.
Cariani is funny -- I knew this years ago -- and physical, too. I did not see his Motel the tailor in "Fiddler" but I can visualize him. I believe that Ben Brantley, who complemented John, found him a tad stylized.
No wonder: Cariani, as a StageWest intern, trained with Eric Hill. Hill studied, for ten summers, with Tadashi Suzuki and Hill's method involves Suzuki exercises for actors. Stomps, squats, statues, and terribly demanding positioning then translates, quite beautifully, within the scope of American theater.
That Cariani writes dialogue which requests actors to connect with: the floor, themselves and on-stage partners comes as no surprise.
"almost, maine" is a Valentine and must see light well beyond that day and evening.
When I checked the website for the play, I thought that Cariani was singing its theme. I was wrong.
That is point. Within the context of "almost, maine," it is okay and human to be wrong. Couples are not always right. The promise for a long and ultimately healthy relationship must acknowledge this eventuality: Being with oneself and becoming "we" with another catupults forward without defined sequence.
The acting quartet (Cerveris, Justin Hagan, Miriam Shor, and Finnerty Steeves) is topflight. Moreover, they are accessible -- perfect for a place which instantly transports viewers, moving them to Almost in a flash.
As snowflakes fall, each seems identical to the next. Really??
"almost, maine" needs to enjoy a long life in Manhattan and should be a smashing success at "almost" any regional. Support it.